Friday Link Love: Art Books, Mysterious Wires, and an Appreciative God

First things first… you guys know about the Sabbath in the Suburbs website, yes? I post there a couple of times a week.

Onward…

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The Best Art Books of 2012 — Brain Pickings

I covet them all. Here’s a page from Alice in Wonderland:

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The Fear of Women as Bishops — New Yorker

I went to see the great Oxford historian of Christianity (and former ordained deacon) Diarmaid MacCulloch, and asked him to explain the roots of such lingering hostility to the idea of women bishops. He laughed and called it a piece of theatre, confabulated by men still smarting from the fact that Christ chose two women to witness and announce the Resurrection.

Snerk.

I quoted him then, and I’ll do it again, now: “The historical ‘against-women’ argument about twelve male apostles—it comes from the early years of the Christian era and the spectacles put forth by the male leaders, who [had] wanted to be the ones to ‘see’ Christ first. By the end of the second century, a male leadership had emerged, and after that it became the men-were-what-the-Holy-Spirit-intended argument and then the tradition-of-the-church argument. It was specious. Slavery was also our ‘tradition’ for seventeen hundred years. If you want a doctrine of the Holy Spirit, you change.”

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Five Charts about Climate Change That Should Have You Very Worried — Atlantic

Most of Greenland’s top ice layer melted in four days this summer:

The event is uncommon, though not unprecedented. A similar event happened in 1889, and before that, several centuries earlier. There are indications, however, that the greatest amount of melting during the past 225 years has occurred in the last decade.

I’m sure everything will be just fine.

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Gazing into the Abyss — Christian Wiman

Wiman is the editor of Poetry magazine. He has an incurable form of blood cancer. And he is my kind of Christian:

So now I bow my head and try to pray in the mornings, not because I don’t doubt the reality of what I have experienced, but because I do, and with an intensity that, because to once feel the presence of God is to feel His absence all the more acutely, is actually more anguishing and difficult than any “existential anxiety” I have ever known. I go to church on Sundays, not to dispel this doubt but to expend its energy, because faith is not a state of mind but an action in the world, a movement toward the world. How charged this one hour of the week is for me, and how I cherish it, though not one whit more than the hours I have with my wife, with friends, or in solitude, trying to learn how to inhabit time so completely that there might be no distinction between life and belief, attention and devotion.

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Giving Thanks for a God That is Appreciative — Hesham A. Hassaballa, Patheos

A link from Thanksgiving week:

In Islamic tradition, it is believed that God has 99 names, or attributes, that describe God for the believer. These include the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, the Creator, the Sustainer, the Loving, the Shaper, the Maker, and many more…

in honor of Thanksgiving, I want to reflect over a particularly fascinating name for God: Al Shakur, or “The Appreciative.”

This is truly, truly amazing. The Lord God—Originator of the heavens and the earth, Creator of all that exists, Giver of Life, the Most Powerful of all things, the King of all kings—is al Shakur, or “the appreciative.”

Appreciative of what, however? What have I done, as a servant of God, so that He would be appreciative of me?

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What’s That Thing? Mysterious Wires Edition — Slate

The “What’s That Thing” series is fun. See the thin wires in the picture?

Apparently it’s a Sabbath thing. More at the link…

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Moneyball and the Future of the Church — David Lose

The third in a series relating aspects of the book/film with the tremendous upheaval that’s at work (and that’s needed) in the church:

One of my definitions of good leadership is the ability to take advantage of crises.

What do I mean by that? Simply that a good leader is always tending a vision of the future. A vision that is always a little larger than the present, always moving just a little beyond where we are now.

The challenge however, is that as a species we tend to put a very high value on homeostasis. We greatly prefer, that is, stability to change. And for good reason: stability promotes growth. But that means we are often far more reactive than proactive, changing only when we have to. And that makes advancing a positive vision of the future difficult, as we would often prefer to make due with a less-than-adequate – but known – present than a promising but unknown (and therefore risky) future.

Which is where crises come in. A crisis demands immediate action and provides the thoughtful and prepared leader with an excuse to make changes that he or she knew were necessary but couldn’t enact because they seemed too difficult for most to contemplate previously.

Incidentally, I used the clip he discusses in part 1 of his series in my workshop for the NEXT Church gathering in Dallas in February. You have to define the problem accurately in order to solve it.

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And the obligatory Colossal post:

The Energy Generated from a Single Orange — Colossal

It’s alive!!!!

May you be alive to your world this weekend. Advent blessings.

Friday Link Love

Plenty of choice goodies today for all your Friday procrastination needs:

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Welcome to the Jungle — Luke Lukas

This has gotta be the best version of “Welcome to the Jungle” EVER. Who needs Axl’s sweet licks when you’ve got a kazoo!!

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.

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Maurice Sendak — Fresh Air 

This quote from an interview with Terry Gross has been making the rounds:

There’s something eucharistic about this.

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Returning to Church, Despite My Doubts — CNN Religion Blog

Although I never experienced that dramatic reconversion moment, I did come to peace with two slow-growing realizations.

First: My doubt belonged in church.

People who know my story ask what I would have changed about my spiritual journey. Nothing. I had to leave the church to find the church. And when I came back, the return wasn’t clean or conclusive. Since then, I’ve come to believe that my doubts belong inside the space of the sanctuary. My questions belong on the altar as my only offering to God.

With all its faults, I still associate the church with the pursuit of truth and justice, with community and shared humanity. It’s a place to ask the unanswerable questions and a place to be on sojourn. No other institution has given me what the church has: a space to search for God.

Read on for her other realization, and more. Amen.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson on Agnosticism/Atheism — The Big Think

Neil deGrasse Tyson identifies as an agnostic:
http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1

This video has sparked some serious, and in some cases virulent, debate about what it means to be an atheist. But I think I get what he’s going for. For one thing, he doesn’t want to part of a movement, partly because some aspects of that movement are, well, mean. But I also think he doesn’t want to be claimed by the atheists because belief in God, and disbelief in God, are just not the questions that animate him.

I think Tyson’s saying, God isn’t a part of the picture, not even as the thing I reject. Unless and until evidence comes to light that proves or disproves God, the idea of God is completely irrelevant to my life. 

Claiming Tyson as an atheist is like someone claiming me as a fan of their favorite cricket team.

I’ve often thought we have a language problem here. Atheism is defined in negative terms: disbelief in God. Maybe it would be more helpful in terms of building understanding if there was a word that explained what people are for rather than what they disbelieve.

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Is Evolution a Lousy Story? — Science and Religion Today

Polls show that fewer than half of Americans accept evolution. Most of us still don’t buy it. As the comedian Louis C.K. asked in a bit about people who insist that they can’t possibly be related to monkeys: “Why are you fighting this?”

Dan McAdams offers one possible, rarely discussed reason: Maybe evolution is a lousy story. Actually, McAdams, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, doesn’t think evolution is a story at all. There is no protagonist, no motivation, no purpose—all crucial elements in a narrative, whether it’s Frog and Toad Are Friends or Fifty Shades of Grey.

He mentioned this idea recently during a presentation at the Consilience Conference,which also drew researchers from biology, economics, and literary studies. Afterward, a seemingly annoyed audience member questioned McAdams’s apparent criticism of evolution, countering that it’s in fact a wonderful, elegant explanation of life. McAdams agreed that it’s wonderful and elegant. He just doesn’t think it’s a story.

I found this intriguing, partly because “creationists are idiots” just doesn’t give you much to go on. And, I love thinking in terms of story.

A new site for me, but one I now follow on Google Reader.

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10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You — WSJ

“Some of your worst days lie ahead,” and other uncomfortable truths.

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Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret — LifeHacker

It’s very simple: Don’t break the chain.

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Crush the “I’m Not Creative” Barrier — Harvard Business Review

The bad news is that if you don’t think you’re creative, our survey data say that you probably are not. But there is good news: You can actually become more creative by changing your mind-set. Anyone can innovate, if they choose to. Disruptive innovators do it by choice, not chance. Their everyday actions swap out an “I’m not creative” mind-set for an “I am creative” one. And then magical (not mystical) things unfold.

Oh, those hippy-dippy flakes at the… Harvard Business Review. What do they know? 🙂

An interesting article, and not just because they love on Evernote, the software that makes my life better every day.

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Have an excellent weekend.

Unless I See

Postage stamp from India honoring the apostle Thomas

I don’t make a regular habit of posting sermons… but I posted the Easter one, and I kinda think that the two sermons are a matched set.

MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Idylwood Presbyterian Church
April 15, 2012
Second Sunday of Easter
John 20:19-31

“Unless I See”

Poor Thomas, or should I say, “Doubting Thomas”… for indeed that is the name we hear more often. I saw a cartoon this week that features Thomas, hands on hips, saying, “It’s just not fair. It’s not like people go around calling him ‘Denying Peter.’”

It’s a dreadful mislabeling of the man, if you ask me. Thomas only wants what everyone else has already received—a glimpse of Jesus, resurrected. In fact, the word “doubt” does not appear anywhere in this passage if you go back to the original text. The New Revised Standard Version renders Jesus’ words, “Do not doubt but believe.” But Jesus doesn’t say not to doubt. He says, “Do not be unbelieving.”

Doubt, after all, is an element of faith, not a sign of unbelief. And I don’t think Jesus need have worried about Thomas being an unbeliever. Because if Thomas were an unbeliever, he’d be off living his life. He wouldn’t be sitting up there with the rest of the disciples, hoping Jesus might show up again. He is there because this was the place where Jesus was last seen. He’s up there, waiting, wanting to see evidence of this amazing thing that has taken place. Those aren’t the actions of an unbeliever. That’s someone who’s still engaged with the push and pull of his faith. Who’s willing to struggle and wait and watch and hope.

Thomas means the Twin, and as my friend Deryl likes to say when he preaches this text, he’s your twin, if you want him. And I know he is the twin of many of you, because you have told me your struggles and your questions…  and yes, your doubts.

He’s a twin that folks would be blessed to have. I’d certainly like to write him into my family tree. Rather than trying to diminish him as many have done with the “Doubting” moniker, today I suggest that Thomas has the most robust faith of any of the disciples. He doesn’t grandstand like Peter: Watch me walk on water! Jesus, you will never wash my feet! Nor does he jockey for position like James and John, who elbow each other out of the way to see who might sit at Jesus’ right hand.

Consider the places we meet Thomas in the gospel of John. We see him in the story of Lazarus (ch. 11), whom Jesus loved, and who is ill, and later dies. Lazarus’s sisters have called for Jesus, who is game to go to Judea, but the disciples say, No, don’t go there, the Jewish authorities want to stone you. That’s the last place we want to be. But Thomas, notably, does not join the chorus of people eager to save Jesus’ skin, and their own. He says, Let’s go, so that we may die too.

We meet Thomas again a few chapters later (ch. 14). Jesus is teaching about God’s house, which has many rooms. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he says. “I go to prepare a place for you… You know the way to the place where I am going.”

And Thomas answers, Umm, actually, we don’t know the way.

We might ding Thomas for interrupting what is one of the more eloquent discourses of Jesus, except that his question is vital if you actually care about following the man.

You don’t ask that question unless you intend to go where Jesus wants to you to go.

So. That’s Thomas in chapters 11 and 14, and then we have chapter 20 to round out our character sketch. We just heard that the first time Jesus appears post-resurrection, Thomas is off somewhere. I preached two years ago that Thomas is the patron saint of the day late and the dollar short crowd. They all get to see Jesus, while he’s off buying Cheetos and Mountain Dew at the 7-11.

But that’s not right, either. Where is Thomas? What is he doing? It seems obvious, doesn’t it? He’s not on a beer run; he’s looking for Jesus. Mary Magdalene said he’s risen, so Thomas is going to find him. He’s certainly not going to cower behind a locked door, quivering with the other disciples for fear of the religious authorities. Thomas is the only one brave enough to be on the outside. So let’s call him Courageous Thomas, not Doubting Thomas.

In the years to come, after Jesus is no longer with them, the disciples will go on to spread the good news and found churches. Thomas has a special distinction: he is the only one of the disciples to have ventured beyond the Roman Empire to spread Christianity. The tradition tells us he established churches in southern India, for heaven’s sake!

Thomas is a man of movement:
“Let’s go to Judea, even if it means our death.”
“I don’t know the Way, Jesus, but I want to know, so tell me.”
“I’m not going to sit up here in the upper room with the door bolted. If Jesus is alive I’m going to go find him and I’m not going to be afraid.”
That search takes him all the way to India, further than any disciple was willing to go.

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You may have heard the story this week about the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker. Booker was coming home the other night and saw his neighbor’s house engulfed in flames. A woman standing nearby screamed that her daughter was still inside, and so without thinking, Cory ran into the house. He and members of his security detail were able to save the woman and others. Cory threw her over his shoulders, sack-of-potatoes style, and ran through the flames. He suffered smoke inhalation and a few second-degree burns, but he and the others are OK.

Now as often happens on the Internet, people decided to have some fun with this and inflate this government bureaucrat into a butt-kicking hero. A twitter feed sprang up on Friday called Cory Booker stories, and they are the 21st century equivalent of the tall tale:
“When Batman needs help, he turns on the Cory Booker signal.”
“When Chuck Norris gets nightmares, Cory Booker turns on the light and brings him warm milk until he calms down.”
“Smoke was treated for Cory Booker exposure.”

Those are fun, aren’t they? But the detail that made me sit up and take notice was from an interview Booker gave the next day, in which he said that the decision to go in was a “come to Jesus moment.”

Now, he probably means “come to Jesus” as in a moment of decision. That’s how we normally think about “come to Jesus.” But think about what the phrase means literally. Come. To. Jesus. He went toward a person in grave danger and called it a come to Jesus moment. I hear strains of Matthew 25 in that: For I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was perishing in a burning building and you dove in and saved me. That which you did to the most vulnerable and imperiled, you did to me.

Thomas, our disciple with the robust faith, would approve. He was a Come To Jesus kind of person.

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This morning, several of my friends are preaching from the book of Acts, one of the other assigned texts for this day. A few of us were puzzling about how to connect Thomas with this snippet from the early church:

4:32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common….
4:34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.
4:35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Sometimes we press this text into arguments about communism and socialism, and I think that misses the point. The point is this: the church helped create an alternate system in which everyone’s needs were taken care of. Nobody had too much; everyone had enough. Everyone.

It is the church’s job to lift up an alternate vision in which that is possible. It takes a robust faith to do so…

And if Thomas is our twin then we have no choice. Notice he does not say, “Unless I see Jesus walking around in a perfect body with a halo…”

He says,
Unless I see the puncture wounds in his hands… unless I see the split in his side.
Unless I see that Jesus is a Jesus who suffered the depths of human pain and lived,
then what’s the point.
Unless I see that Jesus is the one who goes right to the heart of human suffering, taking it on…
then I have no use for him.

That’s the Jesus worthy of Thomas’s faith. And ours.

Friday Link Love

Some things I found captivating, thought-provoking, or just plain fun this week:

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“BLOOM SKIN” — YouTube (video)

How cool would it be to do something like this in worship…

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NPR Tries to Get Its Pressthink Right — PressThink

NPR has a new ethics policy:

With [the policy], NPR commits itself as an organization to avoid the worst excesses of “he said, she said” journalism. It says to itself that a report characterized by false balance is a false report. It introduces a new and potentially powerful concept of fairness: being “fair to the truth,” which as we know is not always evenly distributed among the sides in a public dispute.

Maintaining the “appearance of balance” isn’t good enough, NPR says. “If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side…” we have to say so. When we are spun, we don’t just report it. “We tell our audience…” This is spin!

May God bless them and keep them as they (hopefully) seek to live into that…

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Pursuit, by Stephen Dobyns — Writer’s Almanac

Each thing I do I rush through so I can do
something else. In such a way do the days pass—
a blend of stock car racing and the never
ending building of a gothic cathedral.
Through the windows of my speeding car, I see
all that I love falling away: books unread,
jokes untold, landscapes unvisited. And why?

More at the link. Powerful.

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Forty Ideas for Keeping a Holy Lent — House for All Sinners and Saints

Good, simple ideas.

Day 7: Give 5 items of clothing to Goodwill

Day 8: No bitching day

Day 9: Do someone else’s chore

Day 10: Buy a few $5 fast food gift cards to give to homeless people you encounter

(Sunday)

Day 11: Call an old friend

Day 12: Pray the Paper (pray for people and situations in today’s news)

 Etc.

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Tertium Squid — Gordon Atkinson

Gordon has been blogging each day during Lent—good, heart-wrenching stuff from his vantage point as a former pastor. His mini-essays have become daily reading for me, since the book our congregation is using was written by yours truly.

I don’t have much to say to God these days. No requests. No praises. No promises that I’ll be a better boy. It’s not that I have anything against talking to God. It’s just that I did so much of that for such a long time. I grew up in the Baptist church where all we did was yammer on about this and that. Then I ended up being a preacher for twenty years. I’ve done my share of talking is what I’m saying. I’m kind of in a season of quiet these days.

I like to say I’m listening to God, but I’ve never heard God say anything. I get messages now and then but they always come through a side channel.

What I do these days when I pray is get very quiet. You have to work hard at real quiet. It takes me about twenty minutes to settle in. The Quakers taught me that. At first I thought the Quaker meetings seemed kind of long. Later I found myself arriving early so I could get calm ahead of time because I was losing a third of the hour to the fidgets.

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Elaine Pagels on the Book of Revelation — Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

Pagels … shows that Revelation, far from being meant as a hallucinatory prophecy, is actually a coded account of events that were happening at the time John was writing. It’s essentially a political cartoon about the crisis in the Jesus movement in the late first century, with Jerusalem fallen and the Temple destroyed and the Saviour, despite his promises, still not back. All the imagery of the rapt and the raptured and the rest that the “Left Behind” books have made a staple for fundamentalist Christians represents contemporary people and events, and was well understood in those terms by the original audience. Revelation is really like one of those old-fashioned editorial drawings where Labor is a pair of overalls and a hammer, and Capital a bag of money in a tuxedo and top hat, and Economic Justice a woman in flowing robes, with a worried look.

What’s more original to Pagels’s book is the view that Revelation is essentially an anti-Christian polemic.

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We’re Starting a New Presbyterian Church — Bruce Reyes-Chow

It will be an online church.

It’s an intriguing prototype (to use language we heard at NEXT) and I think I’d sum up my opinion of this with one of the comments: “Please push the envelope on this, while regarding the en-fleshed experience of the gospel as essential.”

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Why It Matters That Our Politicians Are Rich — Boston.com

Politicians would like us to believe that all this money doesn’t matter in a deeper sense—that what matters is ideas, skills, and leadership ability. Aside from a little extra business savvy, they’re regular people just like the rest of us: They just happen to have more money.

But is that true? In fact, a number of new studies suggest that, in certain key ways, people with that much money are not like the rest of us at all. As a mounting body of research is showing, wealth can actually change how we think and behave—and not for the better. Rich people have a harder time connecting with others, showing less empathy to the extent of dehumanizing those who are different from them. They are less charitable and generous. They are less likely to help someone in trouble. And they are more likely to defend an unfair status quo. If you think you’d behave differently in their place, meanwhile, you’re probably wrong: These aren’t just inherited traits, but developed ones. Money, in other words, changes who you are.

Read the studies for yourself and tell me what you think.

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Have a good weekend, everyone.

Faith and Doubt—Where I Begin

A non-religious friend of mine read the sermon and said this, among other things:

Your approach made me feel it’s possible that religion can be open to the non-religious, which is a nice feeling—but it also leaves me wondering that if the central myth of Christianity being true or not is irrelevant to believers, what’s the difference between believers and nonbelievers?

Our conversation went all over the place from here, but this is what I said to him initially. I post it not because it’s all that polished or finished, but because it’s where I start with these kinds of conversations.

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There’s a book out right now called something like, “What’s the least I can believe and still be a Christian.” It attempts to strip out the more literalist stuff that is not really the core of the gospel. Do I have to believe Genesis 1 is scientific? No. Do I need to believe that Jesus somehow has a claim on my life and that impacts how I live? Yes.

Your basic question is right on. Perhaps there isn’t much difference between believers and non-believers. If Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God/heaven is an enacted thing, you don’t need to profess Christ in order to be a part of it. And Jesus said as much (he who is not against us is for us—though he also said the opposite somewhere else, so whaddyagonnado).

What I hope to do in my preaching is to speak a word to people who are what Flannery O’Connor called  “Christ-haunted”–who struggle with profound doubt (and really, what person with a brain doesn’t doubt?), but who just cannot quit Jesus. And the best I can come up with for those folks is this idea of master stories (not my own invention). What story are we living in? Might makes right, look out for #1, only the good die young? Or life out of death? So last Easter was the anniversary of King’s assassination. And I said [paraphrased] “it is crazy to think that a bullet could put an end to Dr. King’s dream.” That’s where I see resurrection.

And for people who aren’t inclined toward faith that’s ridiculous. The man died and his children were left without a father and there were riots in the streets. I can’t argue with that. But there were also redemptive elements in the aftermath too.

Roger Ebert’s review of Of Gods and Men (the movie I mentioned in the sermon) was interesting. He just could not get his head around the monks’ decision to stay and be killed. If they had left, he said, the group of them would have had a hundred years or so of service to give to the poor in some other community. I respect that view and also recognize it as the product of an atheist mind. I’m pretty utilitarian myself, but that calculated way of looking at their lives demonstrates a lack of understanding of what motivates them. Those monks are not primarily social service providers, they are participating in a story of Christ’s emptying himself for humanity, even unto death.

I don’t know if the faith thing is genetic or what, but it’s clear there are people who just aren’t oriented that way. I’m not sure there’s anything I could say to them and it’s probably insulting to try, so peace be upon them. But for people who perceive the world in a more intuitively faith-based way, I hope I give them a place to stand, or pace around scratching their heads, or whatever they need to do.

It’s not so much that the truth of the Christ myth is unimportant, but that the facticity of the physical resurrection is a red herring in that pursuit of truth. By living in the way of Jesus, we participate in the resurrection story, and that brings its own insight, even if that insight results in a further lack of clarity.

Like Augustine said, “It is solved by walking.”

———–

What do you say?